Friday, October 29, 2021

All Hallows Eve, 2021

Maybe it's the Irish in me, but I've always enjoyed Halloween. 

Not that I do much about it.

There are no kids in my building, and there don't tend to be trick or treaters on my street, so I don't give out candy. 

Overall, my neighborhood 

big on Halloween, and a lot of houses and businesses get into the spirit. Here's the window of the local indie hardware store, bad reflection of the buildings across the street from it and all:

Here's the front of the hotel on Charles Street:

And here's a few "civilian" spots:

Halloween would, of course, be nothing if the ducklings didn't make way for it:

Anyway, the crowds of trick or treaters may not stop by my building, but there tend to be a lot of them out and about. So on Sunday evening, I'm sure I'll mosey around a bit to check things out. I'll be going out as a Red Sox fan in my snappy Halloween-themed cap. There's a Jack-o-Lantern on there that you can't quite see.

I look pretty grim, but that's a Red Sox fan for you.

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Is there a more offensive putz out there than Don, Jr.?

 I'm no big fan of Alec Baldwin. I thought he was good (and plenty cute) in Working Girl, but that was over 30 years ago. And he made a excellent Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live. Mostly, he strikes me as something of a jerk.

Still, I have plenty of sympathy for his having accidentally shot and killed Halyna Hutchins, the director of photography for a film that Baldwin is both producing and starring in. I have, of course, more sympathy for Hutchins' family - she had a husband and a young son - but this incident will likely weigh heavily on Baldwin for the rest of his life. 

We'll probably learn a lot more about this shooting over the next few months. There's already plenty coming out about lack of safety standards on the site, about cost-cutting, etc. There will no doubt be hefty settlements, too.

And Alec Baldwin may bear plenty of indirect responsibility for what happened. 

As I noted, he strikes me as a jerk.

Still, if I had to vote on whether Alec Baldwin or Donald Trump, Jr. is the bigger jerk, well, that's an easy one. 

Hands down, it's hard to come up with a bigger jerk than Junior.

In fact, I'd be hard pressed to come up with a more offensive putz than Don, Jr. Certainly, Don, Sr. is crazier and more dangerous, and pretty much the most malign individual the American polity has ever produced. Nonetheless, Jr. is very much his equal, and may even surpass, the old man when it comes to being a jerk, an ahole, a putz. 

One of Junior's grifts is merchandise sales - right wing apparel that offers a lot of pro gun and anti-vax items. Typical of the cool stuff on offer is this ammo hoodie. There are also lots of hats with messages like "Do Not Comply". And increasingly popular FJB-ware. As in Fuck Joe Biden. There's even one that uses military parlance: Foxtrot-Juliet-Bravo. 


But the most stunning items that Don Jr.'s hawking are shirts that make a joke out of the death of Halyna Hutchins. 

Rather piss poor taste, don't you think? Or should I say Papa-Papa-Tango?

Trumpworld, of course, jumped all over the Baldwin gun incident. But the shirts pretty much take the exploitation cake. Available for the low-low price of $27.99 -  I'll assume shipping and handling are extra, but I really didn't want to look too closely. 

I used to have a teensie-tiny-eenie-weenie shred of sympathy for the Trump offspring. What must it be like to have a father like that? But, with the exception of Barron, they're all grown-ass adults. They're well educated. They could do better. They just choose not to. 

There is really nothing too low for these terrible people, is there?

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Amazon: the amazing company we all love to hate

I admit. I order plenty of stuff on Amazon. 

I don't tend to order books for myself - I prefer to do my ordering through my indie if they don't have what I want -  but I have a friend in NY who's spending a lot of time in and out of rehab facilities of late. And when she's in, I send her regular book shipments. 

But there's always something. 

Honestly, I try to see if I can find whatever it is I'm looking for in a brick and mortar store. But sometimes I just can't. And it's just so easy to login to Amazon and let my fingers do the
shopping. And over the last couple of months those whatever it is's I'm looking for have included orthotics, moisture absorber (rainy summer), disposable guest towels for the bathrooms, a plastic holder for my vaccination card, ear buds, supplements (tried my indie pharmacy and two CVSs; that darned supply chain!), and KN95 masks.

But I don't love, love, love Amazon. And I still order shoes through Zappos, pretending that they haven't been owned by Amazon since forever.

On the plus side: Amazon is simple, fast, and easy to buy things you need and/or don't need, especially key after you strike out with physical stores.

On the negative side: Bezos kabillions, worker treatment, putting brick and mortars out of business. (I just hate to think of Amazon completely prevailing there...) And now some disturbing information has come to light. 

The accusations that Amazon has steered shoppers towards its own branded goods - copycat versions of successful products - and away from the other sellers have been around for a long while. I don't believe I've ever purchased Amazon-brand anything, but I wouldn't be surprised if they'd snuck something past me when what I wanted was pretty generic. Amazon has, of course, repeatedly denied the accusations that they were using their data in sneaky ways to promote their knockoffs, and in the process knocking out their competition.

But a bit of evidence has emerged that suggests that the accusations are true.

A trove of internal Amazon documents reveals how the e-commerce giant ran a systematic campaign of creating knockoff goods and manipulating search results to boost its own product lines in India - practices it has denied engaging in. And at least two top Amazon executives reviewed the strategy.

...thousands of pages of internal Amazon documents examined by Reuters – including emails, strategy papers and business plans – show the company ran a systematic campaign of creating knockoffs and manipulating search results to boost its own product lines in India, one of the company’s largest growth markets. (Source: Reuters)

Well, who you gonna believe? Amazon or your own eyes?

Among other tactics, Amazon rigged search results "so that the company’s products would appear, as one 2016 strategy report for India put it, “in the first 2 or three … search results” when customers were shopping on Amazon.

They also developed their private-labeled goods by meticulously replicating what they called "reference or benchmark products." They then went as far as to attempt to develop partnerships with the manufacturers of those reference products to ensure that the quality would be equivalent. 

In 2020, Bezos swore up and down before Congress:

...that the e-commerce giant prohibits its employees from using the data on individual sellers to help its private-label business. And, in 2019, another Amazon executive testified that the company does not use such data to create its own private-label products or alter its search results to favor them."

These statements may, in fact, be self-serving hogwash. Or what we used to call lies. 

I don't have a clue where smart business moves end and possibly illegal anti-competitive practices begin. I'll leave that to the antitrust folks. But it sure looks bad to see Amazon let the smaller guys take the market risk in terms of developing and perfecting products, only to swoop in and grab their business. 

The revelation of the India strategy will no doubt encourage other regulatory entities - EU, US - to poke around further. 

The Reuters article gets into lots of juicy detail. Well worth the read.

As for Amazon, they deserve whatever rains down on their heads. If their private brands business has to get separated out, it'll serve them right. Amazon's just such an amazing company, managing to engender all that love AND hate.

Meanwhile, when it comes to any Amazon shopping sprees, I'll try to be more judicious. Maybe I'll try an extra real store or two before giving up and making my inevitable way to Amazon. And I'll just say no to any 2 a.m. impulse shopping, when I wake up in the middle of the night and realize that I could use another bottle of that shampoo that does wonders for gray hair...

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

The Fall Classic...

The Olde Towne Team is vanquished, so I've seen my last Red Sox game until spring training. Although in the end they didn't prevail, they made this season interesting. I look forward to the day the boys are back, and have my heart set on getting tickets for the Patriots Day game in April. 

There is, of course, baseball yet to be played. The World Series starts tonight. And just as well that the first game is being played in Houston, not Boston. The weather this week is awful. Rainy and windy. It's likely that at least one game would have been postponed, pushing the schedule even further into November than it already is. (If the Series goes seven games, the final game will be played on November 3rd.) 

Anyway, because I enjoy baseball, I'll be keeping at least a casual eye on the World Series, even though the teams playing - the Houston Astros and the Atlanta Braves - are nowhere near being the post-season teams I would have been happy to see play.

The best news, of course, is that the Yankees aren't playing, having been taken out by the Red Sox in the wildcard game. The second best news is that the Dodgers (other than Mookie Betts) aren't playing, either. While many in the elite sports media were salivating about a New York - LA faceoff, I was part of the 'no, no, a million times no' brigade.

Of the American League teams that made it into the post season, the Houston Astros were, after the Yankees, my least favorite team to be playing in the World Series. If the Red Sox couldn't win the pennant, my second besties were the Chicago White Sox. After that, I would have had no problem rooting for the Tampa Bay Rays. The Astros? Meh.

On the National League side, my pennant preference was the San Francisco, Giants, then the Milwaukee Brewers, then the St. Louis Cardinals, then the Atlanta Braves, and - absolute last choice - LA. So the fact that the NL pennant winners are the Braves? Another meh.

But you can't really enjoy watching a baseball game if you don't at least marginally care who wins. So at some point before 8:09 p.m. this evening, I need to pick a rooting interest.

With two meh-ers to select from, it ain't easy.

Usually, I'll go with the American League team. Unless it's the Yankees. (I did want them to win in 2001, in the wake of 9/11. But they didn't.) But with Houston, we have a problem. 

No, I really don't hold their cheatin' past against them. After all, the Red Sox manager, Alex Cora, was part of that scandal. Plus I'm cynical enough to believe that all teams look for an

edge, and sometimes - maybe a lot of the time - what's an innocent look gets their potentially cheatin' hearts cheatin'. And they step over the line and violate some rule or other. 

As long as it's not that egregious or obvious - like throwing a game for money -  if everyone's doing some sort of, say sign-stealing - and some sorts of sign-stealing are okay, and others aren't - I'm not going to pitch a fit over it. Unless, of course, the sign-stealers are playing the Red Sox. 

I'd be okay with their manager, Dusty Baker, winning a ring. Seems like a good enough guy. He's my age, and has been kicking around for a good long time. 

The players I'm pretty neutral on. Don't really know. Don't really care.

But, still, there's something about the Astros that me no like. 

Maybe it's because they beat the Red Sox and I'm a sore loser. (True that.) Maybe it's their being from Texas, the place that's given us Senator Ted Cruz (and Astros' fan, of course), Louie Gohmert, Dan Crenshaw, and other rotten pols too numerous to mention.

So no reason to root for Houston.

Then there's Atlanta. 

On the plus side, they used to be the Boston Braves. And their super-man, Hank Aaron, died this year.

Their manager, Brian Snitker, is a relative youngster - he's only 66 - but he's been part of the Braves organization since 1977. I find it hard to imagine someone spending their entire career with the same company. It kind of makes me hope he wins the big one this year.

(The players I'm pretty neutral on. Don't really know. Don't really care.)

Also, since everything's political, Georgia voted for Biden, and by electing Warnock and Ossoff, they gave the Senate the Democrats' razor thin edge. Plus Georgia has given the world Stacey Abrams. 

And they did dispatch the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS, when everyone in the sporting world had pretty much declared them Destiny's Darlings. 

On the other hand, the Braves invited notorious anti-vaxxer country and western singer Travis Tritt to sing the national anthem before the sixth game of the National League playoff. Which seems a really terrible choice. 

And then there's the Tomahawk Chop, the fan chant and arm waving tradition that Native Americans have asked them to cease and desist on. (I suspect they wouldn't mind a team name change, either, along the lines of the Cleveland Indians becoming the Cleveland Guardians.)

The bottom line: as with the Astros, no reason to root for Atlanta.

So I decided to flip a coin.

The best thing about flipping a coin to make a decision that seems like a toss-up is that, when the coin's on the way down, if you actually have a preference you weren't aware of, it is revealed to you.

Turns out, I really don't have a preference.

Heads I win. Tails you lose.

Looks like I'm rooting for Houston.

This is subject to change, of course.

If Ted Cruz shows his face, I might switch to Atlanta. If Travis Tritt sings the national anthem, if the Tomahawk Chop goes overboard, I'll switch back.

This is the last of baseball for a good long while. Hope it's a good series. 

Monday, October 25, 2021

Angry? Sad? Both? Poor Vera Pratt.

Vera Pratt wasn't super-wealthy. Not by the current standards that decree that if you've got anything less than a billion or two you're just one step above pauper. But she was the great-granddaughter of a Standard Oil partner of John D. Rockefeller, and was in possession of a hefty trust fund.

She was also in possession of plenty of hopes and dreams that she was hoping to realize when, at age 70, she left her home in Washington, DC for a newly purchased $2M home on Martha’s Vineyard.

This was in 2005, and the hopes and dreams she took with her to the Vineyard including a lot of time for gardening and canning, singing in the local choir, painting Impressionist-style works, taking up dancing again, and – hope against hope – finding a nice guy to enjoy what remained of her life with.

While my hopes and dreams are nothing like those of Vera Pratt, I actually know that, at 70, there’s still room in your life for plenty of hopes and dreams. So I have a lot of sympathy for Vera.

At some point after the big move, Vera started to experience what this layperson can only categorize as mental health issues. She:
…began to believe that demons had entered her body and lodged near her right shoulder blade. (Source: Boston Globe)
And these demons were wrecking her hopes, stomping all over her dreams.

Vera Pratt was a highly intelligent and well-educated woman. She had an undergraduate degree in landscape architecture from Radcliffe, a graduate degree from Harvard’s School of Design. She was repeatedly unlucky in love, but Vera was able to travel extensively and enjoy plenty of adventures.
…She learned about Jungian psychology in Vienna. She studied with Timothy Leary, the Harvard psychologist experimenting with psychedelic drugs. She befriended Yule Kilcher, a key figure in admitting Alaska as the 50th state and an advocate for nature conservation.
Just the sort of adventures that someone who didn’t have to worry about paying the rent tends to have. But good for her. Despite the travel and adventuring, she wasn’t a spendthrift when it came to herself. Mostly, she used a lot of her wealth to pay for the education of her nieces, nephews, and godchildren, and to support causes she believed in: civil liberties, refugees, holistic healing.

And there she found herself, alone on Martha’s Vineyard, hoping that there'd be more adventures. But thinking that those demons entering her through her shoulder were ruining her life.

Then she saw a magazine ad for Psychic Angela.
Pratt believed in alternative spirituality and healing. She was interested in Eastern medicine and philosophies. She even believed herself to be mildly psychic, but found the prospect too frightening to pursue.
Maybe not pursuing it for herself. But believing of it in others. Like Psychic Angela – in real life, Sarah Ann Johnson – down there in Florida and ready and willing to "help." Or at least to help herself to some of Vera Pratt’s wealth. Over the next
nearly seven years, Psychic Angela may not have been able to exorcise Vera Pratt’s demons, but she was able to syphon at least $3.5M out of her trust fund.

Psychic Angela may not have been Vera Pratt’s equal education wise – her formal schooling had ended after second grade – but she was able to make a pretty good living for herself with her psychic and spiritual powers.
Psychics don’t come cheap. They sell all sorts of junk: candles, bath salts, jewelry with healing powers. If you need a curse removed, it might set you back $2,500. A love spell? That might go for a cool $12K. Full psychic/spiritual makeovers can cost $50K.
After their [initial] phone call, Johnson set in motion a course of treatment that would shape Pratt’s life for years. The psychic would dedicate her mind, body, and soul to praying the demons away for hours, sometimes late into the night, and, as she would tell Pratt, at the expense of time spent with her own family. Pratt received instructions to place crystals around her home to ward off negative energy, and to clean them regularly. She should pray and meditate, as well as light incense and ring a gong daily.
The pair spoke and e-mailed frequently, and soon enough, Psychic Angela was making pricey house calls to Martha’s Vineyard.
Pratt’s investment in Johnson also went beyond her services and into companionship. Pratt was a reserved person who kept her inner life private — even from family — but here was someone who knew her hopes and despair, her strengths and vulnerabilities, the way a life partner would. Pratt had spent a lifetime longing to share her life with someone and, though a spiritual healer wasn’t what she had imagined, now she did… Most of all, she shared with Johnson her optimism that her demons would be expelled, and her life would be hers once more.
Vera Pratt's social life would flourish. She’d travel. Find new friends. Get even closer to family. 

None of that happened. Instead, she got in tighter with Psychic Angela.

Friends and family began to fear that Pratt was developing dementia. And that she was vulnerable to being exploited by her psychic bestie. (Pratt had, in the past, fallen in with psychics who took her for a ride, but nothing to the extent that Psychic Angela was doing.) They voiced their concerns to Pratt, who pooh-poohed them, even if she saw her fortune starting to dwindle.
Vera Pratt appeared to brush the concern aside. “This gal is wonderful, and I don’t mind giving her money,” she responded. If she had any concern about the length of the treatment without anything to show for it, she ascribed it to the difficulty of the demons, not an ineffective treatment.

Meanwhile, Psychic Angela was starting to police Vera Pratt’s social life. Family and friends, Pratt was told, “were full of negative energy and couldn’t be trusted.” Hmmm. Psychic Angela also put the kibosh on Pratt’s spending on others “— especially family — because giving it to others would return bad energy.”

Pratt wasn’t quite running on empty, but her wealth was dwindling – while Psychic Angela was living it up.
Her lifestyle filled with Celine and Chanel handbags, Christian Louboutin and Yves Saint Laurent shoes, and a Porsche Cayenne. In Aventura, Florida, she lived in a 3,270-square-foot, half-a-million-dollar condo. She had a sizeable New York City Flatiron District home with a kitchen that a visiting Washington Post journalist, asking psychics to predict the 2016 election, described as being as big as the reporter’s entire apartment. When Johnson visited Pratt on the Vineyard, she sometimes stayed at the $500-a-night Harbor View Hotel.
Not surprisingly, psychic fraudsters target older people, “due to common feelings of trust, vulnerability, and isolation." Add in what was likely some form of dementia and Vera Pratt was a prime target.

In 2013, when Pratt was seven years into her screwy relationship with Psychic Angela, her goddaughter – Pratt had enlisted her to help with some bill-paying – saw the drained accounts and called the police. A detective – Sean Slavin - started poking around, and there was Psychic Angela on the scene, barring Vera from meeting or speaking with him. She got Pratt to write a letter stating that whatever money Pratt had given to Psychic Angela was a gift, and tried to assign her power of attorney privileges.

Slavin got Pratt’s family involved. Her brothers had been reluctant to step in because they didn’t want to trample on her rights, stifle her independence. But enough was enough. A bit of investigation of bank records showed the amount of money that had gone Psychic Angela’s way. That would be $3.5M.

The family stepped in and got Vera Pratt a trusted caretaker. Psychic Angela was gradually moved – with plenty of resistance on Psychic Angela’s part - out of the picture.

Vera Pratt’s mental condition went down hill and she was moved by her family to an assisted living facility on the mainland.
Eventually, the FBI got involved and began investigating Sarah Ann Johnson/Psychic Angela’s financial history. No surprise, they found tax evasion. She was sentenced to 26 months in prison. And had to pay Vera Pratt back the $3.5M she owed her.
(As of last summer, Johnson, now out of prison, had repaid under $38,000 toward her restitution. Because she had been unable to find full-time work, she has been allowed to pay $25 per month.)
Not that it matters to Vera Pratt. She died in February, 2018, a few days before what would have been her 83rd birthday. February 14th. Valentine’s Day. 

I don't know whether this story makes me more angry than sad, or more sad than angry. Both, I guess. Sure, if Vera Pratt was eccentric enough to want to fritter away her fortune on psychic flim-flammery, her choice. But it's pretty clear that she was experiencing dementia - I omitted a number of details here - and that Sarah Ann "Psychic Angela" Johnson was exploiting her big time. If there's a hell, there has to be a place for Psychic Angela and her ilk there. 

Friday, October 22, 2021

Coffee may not be my cup of tea, but this is interesting

I like coffee flavor, as in ice cream. I like iced coffee, any time of year. (New Englander, here.) I like the aroma of coffee. I enjoy an occasional cappuccino. But I've never been much of a coffee drinker. My hot bev of choice is tea, thank you.

This goes back to when I was a kid, and an after-school visit to my grandmother meant sitting at her kitchen table, covered with sticky oilcloth - the table, not me or my grandmother - - and feeling very grown up drinking cups of sweet, milky tea. The way I still like it. 

But I also like an interesting business, and Cometeer - a local "coffee tech" company - definitely caught my eye. 

The co-founder, Matthew Roberts, was a student at Bentley University who needed a daily coffee fix. But he didn't have time to brew up a pot in the morning before heading out to class. So he came up with the idea of freezing freshly brewed coffee in ice-cube trays. In the morning, he'd just plunk a few cubes in his to-go cup and by the time he got to his first class, enough would have melted to give him the eye-opener he was looking for.

And, as often happens to kids who are in a business school, that got him thinking...

So in 2015 he co-founded Cometeer. His co-founder, Doug Hoon, is an engineer (MIT pedigree) who is the father of one of Roberts' college classmates.

Working in a renovated seafood factory near the Gloucester shore, Roberts has recruited scientists from MIT, Apple, and Tesla to refine the company’s innovation: a flash-frozen coffee puck that yields a perfect cup, no experience or equipment required. (Source: Boston Globe)

Those coffee pucks are sort of like K-cups, only without all the packaging and the need for a coffee making device. You do need access to water, which is poured over the cube. If you want a hot cup of Joe, you need access to hot water. And if you like ice cubes in your iced coffee, you need access cubes. Other than that, easy-peasy.

Cometeer started out slowly - Hoon was building equipment in his basement, Roberts was experimenting with coffee-making-perfecting. And reaching out to local coffee maven George Howell and lining him up as an advisor. (Howell is the founder of the Coffee Connection, which in the mid-1970's introduced Boston to high end coffee with a West Coast sensibility. Coffee Connection was Boston's Starbucks. Until Starbucks acquired it in 1994. Howell remains a coffee man.)

Hoon and Roberts slogged away, working out the kinks. They introduced their product at a coffee expo in 2019. And the investment world took notice. 

They've raised over $50 million from primo VC's like Greycroft (where - name-dropper me - my cousin's daughter is  partner). And are spending it on a high-tech coffee factory and their 110 employees. 

Proprietary and patented coffee-brewing machines that fill thousand-plus-square-foot rooms are hidden behind locked doors. Advances in flash-freezing technology are being perfected. Coffee masters — armed with Princeton degrees, and poached from companies like Blue Bottle and George Howell Coffee — are analyzing coffee for quality. The company sources coffee beans from around the world, and partners with specialty roasters across America.

Hope George Howell was okay that Cometeer poached some of his QA folks, and doesn't view it as biting the hand that advised you. Or something.

They've got smart money backing them (c.f., my cousin's daughter), but who knows if they'll make it as a unicorn disruptor. Or whatever it is that VC's are looking for from their portfolio companies. Probably the worst that can happen is they get acquired by Keurig or Starbucks.

And if you're wondering about the name - as I was - here's the coffee scoop on "What's with the name?

Comets are frozen, forward-moving, and impactful. Just like us. (Source: Cometeer)

I like it!

In any case, coffee may not be my cup of tea, but I find the Cometeer story interesting, and I'm always rooting for the locals to succeed. 

Go, Cometeer!

Thursday, October 21, 2021

What is wrong with Brett Favre?

To set the table:

I never liked Brett Favre to begin with.

I'm not a colossal fan of professional football. But even though I generally cast a cold eye on the NFL, I do glance over occasionally. And as teams go, I've always had a bit of a fond spot for the Green Bay Packers, where Favre was the star quarterback for years. But I never liked Brett Favre.

And he did nothing to further enamor himself when he decamped to the Jets, where he got caught up in a sexting scandal with a Jets sideline reporter.

Not to mention that he's a lunkhead in general, and a Trumpist lunkhead in particular.

So, patooey on Brett Favre.

And now it's capital-P-Patooey on Brett Favre. What. A. Putz.
NFL star Brett Favre must return $828,000 he received from welfare funds that should have gone to needy families, Mississippi State Auditor Shad White said in a statement today. The famed quarterback and Mississippi native received $1.1 million in funds from two non-profits whose founder has since been indicted on state and federal charges for their alleged role in the largest embezzlement scheme in state history.

White said Favre accepted the money for speaking engagements that he never attended for Families First For Mississippi, one of the non-profits involved in the alleged scheme. The football star has said he did not know the funds were illegal when he accepted them. (Source: Mississippi Free Press)
So Favre claims he didn't know the funds were illegal. But, but, but...
This afternoon, Mississippi Today’s Anna Wolfe reported that the letter Favre received from White said the “illegal expenditures and unlawful dispositions were made when you knew or had reason to know through the exercise of reasonable diligence that the expenditures were illegal and/or the dispositions were unlawful.” 
Maybe old Brett just isn't that into reasonable diligence. After all, reasonable diligence sounds harder to do than send an unsolicited dick pic to a young woman you're trying to get to know better.

Anyway, the claim is that Favre never made the speeches he was paid to give. What, pray tell, did he think the money was coming his way for? Just a little walking around pocket change, courtesy of a jock-worshipping friend?

Favre wasn't the only ath-a-lete caught up in this scandal.
Others who received letters from the auditor today include:
Former WWE wrestler Ted Dibiase, Sr., known as “The Million Dollar Man,” who White said must pay back $722,299 that his Christian ministry, Heart of David Ministries, received
DiBiase’s son, Ted DiBiase, Jr., a retired WWE wrestler who White said owes $3.9 million
DiBiase’s other retired WWE wrestler son, Brett DiBiase, who White said owes $225,950 
The Marcus DuPree Foundation, owned by the former NFL player of the same name, which White said owes $789,534
The money was funneled their way by one John Davis, who misspent $77 million in funds earmarked for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. And Mississippi, which is the poorest state in the U.S., has plenty of families in need of temporary assistance. 

Favre is from Mississippi. Surely, he knows how sorely needed this money is. Not so surely - he is, after all, a lunkhead - he must have asked himself why two nonprofits established to help impoverished families in desperately poor communities were paying him a boatload for no-show speeches. 

For his part, Favre denies that he ever got paid for a speech he didn't give. 
Favre said the payments were actually for public service announcements that ran in his home state of Mississippi: "I did ads that ran for three years, was paid for it, no different than any other time that I've done endorsements for other people, and I went about my way. For [the auditor] to say I took $1.1 million and didn't show up for speaking engagements is absolutely, 100 percent not true." (Source: Bleacher Report)

So it's okay in Favre's universe to cadge all that money to do PSA's for organizations that are supposed to be helping poor people? It's "no different" than the types of paid endorsements he's done for Wrangler Jeans?

What is wrong with Brett Favre? Do top-of-the-line professional athletes just get so used to people kissing up to them, sprinkling gold dust on them, comping them on everything, that they just don't ask any questions? Or are they just so blinded by greed that, whatever wealth they've accrued - and Favre accrued plenty over the course of his illustrious career - it's never enough.


Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Swag baggery in the Trump White House. (Anyone out there surprised?)

Most of the Trump-related news is pretty dire - as in his continuing to beat the drum about the stolen election, and everything else he's doing to gratify his ego while ruining the country. But every once in a while, there's a little story that, while about behavior that's plenty malign, does put a bit-een of a smile on my face.

Take the recent report that:
...the Office of the Inspector General (IG) is in the process of investigating whether these appointees decided to help themselves to the presents from the gift vault right before Trump left town. Americans paid for these gifts meant for foreign leaders. They had been planned for the Group of Seven summit at Camp David in 2020, but of course, the COVID pandemic interrupted those plans. The price of the MIA gifts was “significant,” according to a State Department official familiar with the issue, NBC News reported. (Source: Bipartisan Report)
What was in the goody bags?

Well, goodies. Like leather portfolios. Pewter Trays. Marble boxes bearing the presidential seal. High end junk that no one actually needs, but, once you see it, you do kind of want it. And who doesn't like free stuff, even when it's kinda/sorta free stuff that's stolen. 

Not that things like this don't happen in the private sector. Having been in marketing, I'm all too familiar with the disappearance of objects meant for customers. 

One time, when working with a small software company, my group ordered golf balls with the company logo on them. We were going to use them on a golf outing during out annual user group meeting. We ordered them a bit too far in advance and, by the time the user group rolled around, the cupboard was bare. Oh, well.

Sometimes the items that disappeared were more valuable than a package of golf balls. 

At a much larger - and bigger budget - company than my little software outfit, the giveaway for a partner promotion we were running was a very nice Helly Hansen jacket that cost nearly $200 bucks. The person in charge of ordering the swag for the promotion gave one to our company's Chief Marketing Officer. Oh, well. What's one jacket out of a fifty. 

Next thing we knew, the person in charge of ordering the swag for the promotion was sporting a very nice Helly Hansen jacket. As was her manager.

Before we knew it, almost all of those very nice Helly Hansen jackets had disappeared. 

Word went out that folks in the marketing organization had best not be seen wearing a very nice Helly Hansen jacket into the office.

All this was especially annoying to the person on my team who was the partner relationship manager. So much for the very nice Helly Hansen jacket promotion intended to encourage tech partners at some company or other to flog our services.

But this was just marketing stuff. Light-fingering corporate swag was not great, but it wasn't exactly a federal crime. Unlike ripping off the citizens of the United States, in the form of gifts exchanged with foreign governments. But this was apparently par for the Trump administration course.

In addition to the swag left over from the canceled G-7 meeting, another item that pulled a disappearing act was a bottle of Japanese whiskey valued at nearly $6K that was supposed to make its way to Mike Pompeo. It apparently went down someone else's hatch. Cheers!

Not that Pompeo was supposed to keep it, either. There are pretty strict regulations about gift exchanges with foreign dignitaries.
The normal protocol included three options: returning gifts above a modest amount, giving them to the National Archives or another appropriate government entity, or purchasing them from the Treasury Department at their current value.
But, as The New York Times noted:
Gift exchanges between U.S. and foreign leaders, a highly regulated process, devolved into sometimes risible shambles during the Trump administration. 

Risible shambles certainly would be apt epithet for Trump & Co, if the stakes for their non-gift-grifting behavior weren't so high.

But while on the risible end of the spectrum, there was a very amusing anecdote included in the article. 

Trump's first "diplomatic" foray was to Saudi Arabia. You may recall Trump doing some sort of ritual sword dance, and placing his hand on a glowing orb. But DJT and his entourage waltzed away with "dozens of presents, including three robes made with white tiger and cheetah fur and a dagger with a

handle that appeared to be ivory."

Anyway, whether a legitimate gift or not, turns out the Endangered Species Act forbids Americans from owning furs and ivory covered under the act. But these gifts were never recorded, and the Trump folks got to enjoy them for a while. Someone finally wised up and reported the gifts. Risibly, the Saudi gifts turned out to be fakes. I'm sure they figured that, if no one in the U.S. government was going to call them out over Khashoggi's murder, they weren't going to voice any concerns about a fake cheetah robe. 

There were a number of gifts other given to Trump that haven't yet been accounted for, and the investigation is ongoing. Wonder if they've checked Mar-a-Lago?

It would be a surprise to exactly no one if it turns out that Trump and his pack of grifters made off with a ton of swag. Some of it can be chalked up to their generally grifting ways. But I'm sure some of it can be attributed to his administration's ignorance of and lack of interest in norms, protocols, policies, and regulations that those more familiar with how governance works would at least have been aware of - even if they had no intention of complying with them.

It does make me wonder, however, whether it's time to retire the custom of exchanging pricey gifts with foreign heads of state. It's a pretty tired dance, and I'm sure most governments would be just as happy to call it quits. Small host/hostess gift, fine. Give high-end visitors a White House pen. Some softshell crabs. A bunch of roses from the Rose Garden - if they're back to having roses in the Rose Garden again. 

I believe that the Irish Prime Minister, who regularly pops in to the White House around St. Patrick's Day, brings a pot of shamrocks along. Seems about the right level.

Meanwhile, I was amused to read about the Trump admin swag baggery. What bunch! And, of course, I was delighted to learn that the Saudis had given fake gifts. I don't know whether to laud them for their ingenuity, or tell them to go pound sand. Think I'll go with pound sand. I repeat myself: What a bunch!

And what's that they say about you can't cheat an honest man?

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The buzz is off, way off

Yellow jackets? Wasps? You didn't want them anywhere near you. They stung, and their stings hurt. Bumblebees? Not so much of a fear factor. Compared to yellow jackets and wasps, they were sort of, well, bumbling. They weren't as apt to sting and if they did, it tended to be less painful. Or so I've heard.

So, I liked them just fine. Seeing a bumbling bee was like seeing a dragonfly or a butterfly. Lovely to look at (and nothing to be (much) afraid of, unless you were allergic to bee stings).

But if you want to look at a bumblebee of the American bumblebee variety you'll be out of luck if you live in Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, or Vermont, which are among the eight states where they're no longer to be found. Nationwide, the overall American bumblebee population has declined about 90%. They're down by 99% in New York state. With four New England states already plum out of bumblebees, Massachusetts probably isn't far behind.

To date, bumblebees aren't protected federally, or by any states. But with their population down so drastically, they may now be eligible for protection under the Endangered Species Act, "which would provide rules and framework for saving the species from extinction." 

We need these babies.
American bumblebees are a vital pollinator for wildflowers and crops, and their decline could have severe consequences for the environment. (Source: Smithsonian Magazine)
A petition for protection was recently filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Bombus Pollinator Association of Law Students (a student group at Albany Law School).

Here's hoping they succeed. (And gotta love that a law school has a Bombus Pollinator Association.)
"This is an important first step in preventing the extinction of this fuzzy black-and-yellow beauty that was once a familiar sight," said petition co-author Jess Tyler, a Center for Biological Diversity scientist, in a statement. "To survive unchecked threats of disease, habitat loss, and pesticide poisoning, American bumblebees need the full protection of the Endangered Species Act right now."
Bumblebees have a lot going against them. Pesticides, loss of habitat, climate change...

Pesticides are especially unkind to American bumblees, and the states with the largest declines bumblebee numbers are those with the largest increase in the use of nasty pesticides. (Not that there are any other kind.)
Pesticides like neonicotinoids harm the bumblebee's natural homing system, disrupt their communication strategies, and weaken their immune systems, reports Live Science. 
If protection is granted at the federal level, "farmers or developers who harm the insects could face up to $13,000 in fines each time one is killed."

This seems like it would be pretty difficult to enforce. A backhoe smooshes a bumblebee? Who's going to know? I suppose if farmers were using harmful pesticides it would be simple enough to track their use. Still, enforcement might be pretty difficult.

But whether the protection works or not, it's worth a try.

Unless you're out communing with nature all the time, you're not likely to miss a species that goes extinct here and there. 

Polar bears? Sure, those pictures of the polar bear mother and child marooned on an ice floe are heartbreaking, but the only polar bears most of us ever see are in zoos. And they'll survive.

Snail darters? Can't remember the last time I ran across one.

Bumblebees? See above. No recall at all. I'm still swatting away an occasional yellow jacket, but I wouldn't have noticed that bumblebees have disappeared.

Not the same way we notice the worsening weather, the unprecedented fires out west, the flood waters drowning folks in their basement apartments in Queens and New Jersey. Not that we do anything about it. But deny all you like, there really is no denying that something's up. And that something is not good.

Maybe when it comes to the demise of American bumblebees, insecticides are the main culprit, not climate change. But bumblebees are just one more canary in the coal mine that we're destroying our natural environment and further diminishing life as we've known it.

The buzz from the American bumblebee is off, way off. And that's not good buzz for anyone.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Does the world really need a connected cologne bottle? (I'm looking at you, Paco Rabanne.)

Sex has always sold. And one of the products that sex has always sold has been men's cologne.

A late 1960's ad for English Leather featured a beautiful woman uttering those famous words, "All my men wear English Leather...or they wear nothing at all." Aramis was "peppery and potent." (I'll just bet.) And then along came Paco Rabanne, with the come-hither artist, hanging around dialing-for-whatever in the rumpled-sheet bed - Rumpled? Gee, why would that be? - with the mirror propped up next to it. 

I found all these ads cheesy. But when it came to cheese, Paco Rabanne, with the after-the-fact phone call "narrative" was the cheesiest. 

Admittedly, men's cologne doesn't factor that prominently in my life, but I would have thought that all of these brands were defunct.

But, nah. They're all still around.

It's just that it looks like, when it comes to their latest story, Paco Rabanne is all sexed out. That naked guy engaged in a sexy, phone convo has been replaced by a robot. Tech sells! Or at least the folks at Paco Rabanne think that's the case.

The Phantom bottle is a retro-futurist piece of visionary design, but the shiny silver robot-shaped bottle is more than that. It’s also the first connected bottle, turning that shiny silver robot into your “wingman.” (Source: Happi)

Gee, I know that the always-on generation loves all things virtual, but a cologne bottle replacing the classic wingman. Seriously, bro?

A contactless communication NFC chip is embedded in the spray caps of the 100 ml and 150 ml bottles. Just touch Phantom’s head with your smartphone to connect to the Phantom universe, featuring exclusive content curated by Paco Rabanne: interactive filters, personalized playlists, augmented reality, interactive games and more.

Content curated by Paco Rabanne? All my content's curated, or it's not content at all

I know that all sorts of consumer brands are looking to engage their users, build brand loyalty via clicks and eyeballs and likes and Instas and retweets and sharing (is caring). But I really don't quite get the desire or need for a consumer to have a relationship with items that they buy. I really like my Asics sneakers, my Bombas socks, my Brigham's Mocha Almond ice cream. I'm brand loyal - I inherited it from my mother - to Scott toilet paper. I swear by Teddie's peanut butter. But I really don't look to any of these products for personalized playlists and interactive games. Augmented reality? No thanks. Plain old reality is plenty real enough without augmenting it.

And I really don't want or need any product, no matter how keen I am on it, to know where I am at any given time. Does L.L. Bean need to know where I'm going when I put that new fleece on? Hell, no. 

Then there's what's in the robot bottle. And here, I guess, we're back to sex sells, even if the sex has been conjured up by AI-deploying brainiacs. 

The ingredients and the way they’re combined were selected because neuroscientists have demonstrated they can activate brain areas associated to seduction, alertness and energy. 

Just spitballin' here, but I'm going to go out on a limb to say that the guys who want to commune with a cologne via a wifi-enabled bottle cap on a jar that looks like a robot doesn't have all that great a need to "activate the brain areas associated to seduction." 

Maybe I'm just old school, but if I had to pick between a fellow following a Paco Rabanne inspired playlist, sent to his smartphone by a cologne bottle, and the cheesy guy in the rumpled bed communicating remotely the old fashioned way, give me the Bakelite phone man any old time. 

Friday, October 15, 2021

The lost art of accordion repair

Although I don't play the accordion, I guess you could say I have accordion in my blood. Somewhere, anyway.

My Grandpa Wolf played the accordion. I don't remember him at all: he died before I was two. And it may have been a concertina that he played, not an accordion. But both of my Wolf uncles - Bob and Jack - were full-blooded accordionists. 

Jack even had a country-swing-polka trio, Jake Wolf and the Midwesterners. This was in the early fifties, and Jack was in his early twenties. 

I never saw the group perform, but when we were in Chicago for our every-other-year trips, it was always a thrill when Jack and/or Bob took out their case and started running their fingers up and down the keyboard. (They both played piano accordions, not button accordions.)

What songs did they play? I don't remember. "Beer Barrel Polka"? "Pennsylvania Polka"? I do know that "Blue Skirt Waltz" (as popularized by Frankie Yankovic) was a family favorite. 

The only piece I actually remember either of them playing was "After You're Gone," played by Jack on the piano. (My mother's family was pretty musical. Everyone played at least one instrument. My mother played the violin and a bit of piano.)

I did hear quite of bit of accordion music growing up. My father couldn't stand Lawrence Welk, but we watched his show every week and were thus exposed to both Lawrence (a-one-and-a-two-and-a...) and the accordion meister Myron Floren. 

But I didn't know many kids who played the the accordion. The only one who comes to mind is Teddy B, an older kid on our street who went to Polish Catholic school, not our parish school, so it wasn't like we were big buddies or anything. His claim to fame was an appearance on Community Auditions. This was a weekly talent contest on Channel 4 which billed itself as "New England's showcase for talented amateurs." Teddy didn't win. Talented amateurs from Worcester never did. (Proof point: Teddy's sister Roberta also appeared on Community Auditions, twirling her baton. She didn't win, either.)

Anyway, my uncles Bob and Jack are both long gone. (They died young. Bob was 45, Jack in his early 50's.) And I don't give much thought to accordions.

Having spent a fair amount of time at sessions in Irish pubs, I have heard a fair amount of accordion music over the course of my adult life. (Those accordions would probably have been button, not piano accordions.)

But mostly, if I gave any thought to accordions, that thought would have been that accordions are currently played by old schoolers, Tex-Mex bands, Zydeco bands, and hipsters. And that, while not exactly a growth profession or avocation, accordion playing is still sort of a thing. (Mostly thanks to Tex-Mex and hipsters. They aren't making any more old schoolers, and we're dying off.)

It turns out that lack of accordionists is not the issue. The issue is that accordionists are facing a shortage of accordion repairers. 

There are a couple of repair shops out in Western Mass, but one focuses primarily on button accordions and concertinas. There's a fellow on the Cape who inherited his know-how from his father. Paul Tagliamonte, Jr. outlined the complexities of accordion repair for Boston Globe writer A.Z. Madonna, herself an accordion player who believes that she'll need to become an accordion repair adept for self preservation. Here's what repair entails:
There are three essentials to the art of accordion maintenance. First is the know-how; second is spare parts such as keys, reed valves (usually leather strips), and metal rods; and third is tools, though most of these can’t be found at your average hardware store. Tools like a set of bellows to test reeds without having to put the whole instrument back together again; a setup to melt wax at a low enough temperature to set reeds without burning them; maintenance and tuning tools that look like what a dentist might use to scrape plaque off someone’s teeth; even a tray that indexes bass buttons to make sure they go back onto the instrument the same way they came off. (Source: Boston Globe)
Yikes, even if I were going to consider taking up accordion repair in my great old age - which I most decidedly am not - just the gathering of the required equipment would have turned me away.

It's not just an American problem.

Castelfidardo, in Italy, is something of the capital of the accordion kingdom. They're having a hard time finding young folks who want to commit to the life of accordion repair. And a lot of their master technician have taken the tricks of their trade to the grave with them.

I don't want to see accordion music die out. 

Sure, it can be sappy - think "O Sole Mio" - but mostly it's lively. And, seriously, how can you not smile when you hear polka music. Or even the old accordion classic of my childhood, "Lady of Spain."

Sure, repairing an accordion is probably not as much fun or glamorous as playing the instrument, but I sure hope some folks take it up. 

And what I wouldn't give for a recording of Jake Wolf and the Midwesterners to suddenly appear...

Thursday, October 14, 2021

High anxiety about racism

Years ago, Sean McDonough was the regular TV announcer for the Red Sox. I liked him, and thought he did a good job. I can't remember why he was fired: Wanted too much money? Too candid for the powers that be were? He's been back doing part time radio announcing for the Sox, but - even though I think baseball on the radio is great - I don't usually listen to games; I watch them. 

Anyway, McDonough is in a bit of hot water for making a crack the other night about the name of SF Giants executive Farhan Zaidi, who is of Pakistani descent, and the first Muslim GM in Major League Baseball. (Not to mention a brainiac, with an undergraduate degree from MIT and a PhD in economics from Berkeley.)

When one of his colleagues in the booth mentioned Zaidi, McDonough's off the cuff reaction was, “Their GM’s name is ‘High Anxiety’?”

Not exactly a grand witticism, but not the end of the world, either. 

To me it was kind of dumb. A junior-high level comment making light fun of someone's name. Because, at the junior-high level, people's names get made fun of. Even a dirt-common last name like Rogers came in for a jape or two back in the day. C.f., Roy Rogers (and Trigger), Ginger Rogers (vs. people who aren't great dancers). 

One of my brothers had a high school friend named Butts. You can just imagine what came his way.

While McDonough's comment was by no means uproariously funny, it was a tiny bit funny. I'm guessing that, if they let themselves, every baseball GM would be in a state of high anxiety pretty much all the time. Of course, they didn't get to where they are by not being able to manage the pressure, channel their anxiety, etc.

The Giants were the winningest team in baseball this season, but nipping at their heals - finishing just a game back - were their archrivals the LA Dodgers. Maybe "high anxiety" isn't the exact feeling, but the pressure sure is on for them to beat the Dodgers in their series, and go on to win it all. 

And, let's face it, the name Zaidi does sound like anxiety without the anx. 

So dumbish joke, but no big deal.

Not so fast.

All of a sudden, McDonough's being accused of insensitivity at best, and racism at worst. 

Boston, of course, has a long and sometimes well deserved reputation for racism. I suspect that it's not all that much worse here than in most other large American cities, but we do have our share of iconic (in a terrible way) incidents. Who can forget the picture of the young white guy (Irish, South Boston) charging Ted Landsmark, an African American lawyer, using an American flag as a spear, just outside of Boston City Hall during the busing crisis of the 1970's? 

And I suspect that, when it comes to racism, Boston gets judged more harshly than other places because we have an equal reputation as a liberal bastion full of smug, holier than thou progressives, looking down our smug, progressive noses at the rest of the country. 

All this said, we haven't had anything near the types of racist cop incidents that have been recorded in NYC, Chicago, or Minneapolis. It could be worse... 

Still, there's no denying that we're a city with a largely white male entrenched power structure. (And plenty of virulent racists, most of them not, I'll venture, part of that entrenched power structure.)

Whoever our new mayor is, come November, the entrenched power structure will be placed a bit on its ear. Two women are running, one an Asian-American, the other of half-Tunisian descent who identifies as a POC. Whatever happens, our mayor is not going to be an Irish- or Italian-American for the first time in, like, forever. (Make that mostly Irish with one Italian disruptor/interruptor, Tom Menino, along the way.)

But the September primary run-off brought up all the old accusations of racism. There were five candidates. (It's a non-partisan position and election, but everyone who runs is a Democrat.) Three were African-American, but the two candidates who advanced to the final were not. Out came the cries of racism. But not if you do the math. Blacks make up about one-quarter of Boston's population. Black candidates for mayor received 40% of the vote. Since Black turnout was proportionately lower than white turnout, it looks like a lot of whites voted for a Black candidate. And every voter voted for a person of color. 

But the day after the primary, out came the cries of racism. Once you get a reputation, it's hard to live it down.

As for Boston baseball, the charges of racism are built on a solid foundation. Tom Yawkey - not a Bostonian, I will note; he was from South Carolina - was the old-school racist owner of the Red Sox who made sure the Red Sox were the last team to have a Black player on the roster. Yawkey rejected the opportunity to bring up Jackie Robinson. And waited until twelve years later to bring on Elijah "Pumpsie" Green to break the Red Sox color barrier. (Supposedly, Tom Yawkey came around in his old age.)

So there's that lurking in the background of Sean McDonough's clumsy comment.

And that's all it was. At least IMHO.

He wasn't making fun of Farhan Zaidi for his Pakistani origins, making a crack of the why isn't he running a cricket team variety. He wasn't laughing about Zaidi's being a Muslim. He was just remarking on the fact that his last name happens to sound a bit like the word anxiety. Trite, not racist. As we used to say in Worcester, "Count to three and I'll laugh for you." One. Two. "Ha-ha, couldn't wait."

There's plenty of problems with racism in Boston, in Massachusetts, in the United States, in the world. 

Words matter, but making Sean McDonough's little not-so-bon-mot the center of anyone's attention is, to me, a diversion from the really ugly things that are happening out there. 

We should all have some level of high anxiety about racism, and we should be doing more about it than freezing in place in our anxiety. As white folks, however, we deserve to experience anxiety over racism. 

Maybe I'm just not the sensitive type, but I'm not sensing racism in Sean McDonough's crack. 

Nothing to see here, folks. Let's move on.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Trading in basketball court for criminal court.

I was never all that much of a pro basketball fan. Basketball was more my husband's thing, and I haven't followed it any too closely since Jim died. 

A few times, when out and about, we - but which I mean he, as Jim was a far better celebrity spotter than I ever was -  spotted NBA players.

Not that I came up empty. I saw Celtic great Don Nelson near the Boston Garden. (Admittedly, guys as tall as the average basketball player are pretty noticeable.)

But mostly it was Jim.

Once, in NYC, we saw a former Knick. I think it was Willis Reed. Or it may have been Earl "The Pearl" Monroe.

We saw Kevin McHale at Logan Airport. And K.C. Jones and his wife in a restaurant once. 

And it was Jim who recognized Celtic (at the time) Tony Allen, cruising Newbury Street in a big, shiny, black, pricey car. Mercedes? Beamer? One of those...

I haven't heard the name Tony Allen in years, but he's in the news now, thanks to his having been implicated in a scam bilking the NBA's benefits plan out of $4M in fake medical and dental claims. From 2017-2020, the players pocketed $2.5M; the "providers" of the faux services got the rest. 

Tony Allen is one of 18 players - another is former Celtic Glen 'Big Baby' Davis - named in an indictment by the US Attorney's office. The other day, the FBI branched out around the country and arrested most of them, including Terrence Williams, who was the mastermind of the scheme. He made the arrangements and got kickbacks from the former players.
[US Attorney Audrey] Strauss said prosecutors have travel records, email, and GPS data that proves the ex-
players were sometimes far from the medical and dental offices at the times when they were supposedly getting treated.

In one instance, she said, an ex-player was playing basketball in Taiwan when he was supposedly getting $48,000 worth of root canals and crowns on eight teeth at a Beverly Hills, Calif., dental office in December 2018.

...Williams was also charged with aggravated identity theft, which carries a potential penalty of up to two years in prison, for trying to frighten a co-defendant into paying a kickback by impersonating a health plan employee. (Source: Boston Globe)

None of these guys were ever household name superstars. Tony Allen probably had the best career. 
Still, the 18 combined to make $343 million in their on-court NBA careers, not counting outside income, endorsements, or what any may have made playing overseas.
It's likely that most of these men have little to show for their years on the court, rather than before the court. One of them is so broke he qualified for the services of a public defender.

A very sorry story about a lot of professional athletes is that they don't handle the financial side of the business very well. Total earnings, that should have been enough to provide a comfortable cushion for 'what's next', if not enough to retire and go golfing, evaporate. Agents scoop out a hefty sum. Many of the athletes come from poor backgrounds, and the expectation when a son/brother/buddy makes it to the pros is that he'll take care of the folks he knew back when. A house for mom. And everyone else. An entourage of schoolyard buds. Not to mention the quite natural (but - easy for me to say - sad) desire of a young man - especially one who grew up with precious little - to buy the flash car, the expensive clothing, the bling. 

So, there they are. In their thirties, maybe forties, with little to show for their life's work. And here's someone they know, someone who's maybe a lot like them in terms of background and career, promising them some walking-around money. And that money's easy. And no doubt positioned as a "no one gets hurt" kind of thing. Who cares if the NBA takes a hit? The league is rich. They won't even miss it.

What the NBA 18 might end up missing is their freedom.

Trading in basketball court for criminal court may turn out to be a really stupid play - a play that gets them fouled out of the game for as many as twenty years. Sad...

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Knocker Uppers

Britain may have been the home to the Industrial Revolution, ushering in the brave new world of mass produced goods, anomic urban living, and toiling in the factory. Unfortunately, those who toiled in the factories, especially if they wanted to be consumers and not just survivors, mass produced goods were not as cheap and widely available as they are now. And unfortunately alarm clocks and watches weren't readily available to, or affordable by, those toilers. 

In plenty industries, in plenty parts of the world, factory work remains dreadful: dangerous, smelly, noisy, ill paid. (Would you want to work in a meat processing plant? Me neither. I did work one summer in a shoe factory, and that was quite enough for me. It was only quasi-dangerous: fumes to inhale, ancient elevators, protruding nails that could shred your fingertips as you felt around the bottom of a boot to find the protruding nails you needed to pull out. But it was plenty smelly, noisy, and ill paid. By the end of the work week, there were some workers in my section who went without lunch because they'd run out of money.) 

But factory life was especially terrible in early industrial Britain. You worked hard under harsh circumstances. Brutalization of workers was the norm, and you'd better not be a minute late for work or you could get your pay docked. (I think that in "my" factory, if you punched in a minute late, or out a minute early, they docked you for a quarter of an hour.) In some factories, the gates closed after the workers entered for their shift. If you got there a second too late, too bad. You'd lose a day's pay, and maybe even your job.

None of this flexible, make your own hours that many of today's professional "knowledge workers" enjoy - especially if you're working from home in your comfy pants. Back in the day, you really didn't want to be late. Which meant you really didn't want to oversleep. 

What was a worker to do? Unless you had whatever they used to call a built-in alarm clock back in the day before they had alarm clocks, you needed whatever they would have called a wake up call. If they'd had such a thing as a wake up call. Back in the day.

What they did have in Britain, especially in the industrial north, in the docklands, in the mining towns, was someone called a "knocker-upper." Knocker-upped came around and tapped on your window with a long pole. Or, used a pea shooter to wake you up. 

I don't suppose it paid all that much, but I do suppose the job of knocker-upper had its charms. You got to work outside, rather than in a fetid factory or in a mine where you always had to fear a cave-in. You were an entrepreneur, your own man - or your own pea-shooting woman. After you covered your shift, the rest of the day was your own. Sure, this probably meant scrounging around for other work or seeing if you could find a lump of coal that had fallen off the coal cart (male division), or figuring out how you were going to feed a family of 8 on one turnip, or scrubbing diapers by hand (female division). 

On the other hand, the pressure must have been immense. You miss a window, a bloke gets fired, it's on you.

I was this years old before I'd ever heard of a knocker-upper, which I learned about when this picture of a knocker-upper floated across my Twitter timeline. But they were apparently still a thing up until the 1970's, which is pretty shocking, given that there were plenty of cheap alarm clocks and watches around by then. Timex, anyone?

Now it's another one of those lost professions. No great loss, of course. But a little bit of color and a historic artifact, gone. Today, most of us - even, I'm guessing, most of those still toiling away in rancid factories, at least here in the States and throughout Europe - have a smartphone to wake them up.

But I do have one chicken-and-egg question about the knocker uppers. Who knocked up the knocker upper?